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Mar 7, 2011 08:12 AM

Upcoming Yucatan trip - Tulum, Piste, Chichen Itza, PDC - questiones?!

Happily sifting through the board re previous Tulum etc excursions. A few things I haven't readily found (tho excuse me if they are there). Up front: We have a car, are doing one overnight in Chichen Itza with a planned stop at the hotel in Valladolid. Then off to Tulum for week. Other stops: Coba, Akumel, Puerto Aventuras, PDC.

* Best coffee and breakfast snack option in Tulum Pueblo and beach. We may shop the San Francisco and cook bfast at the condo too.
* Coffee - your favorite store or shop bought brands (to take home)
* Best happy hour on beach. La Zebra? How is Milamores - Escobar's place - I think it was called Casa Manga? Your favorite spots for drinks and a lite snack?
* Chocolate! Good brands or local places to shop for homemade sweet stuffs?
* Any new rest/bar openings or closings in last month or two? Caught up on most CH threads but maybe recent travelers have found new places or other recommendations are now closed?
* Piste - we are overnight in Chichen Itza. Any restaurant recos in Piste? Seems small. I think another thread mentioned Mayaland? Is this just good for drinks and vibe? This will be our first night in so might be the better way to acclimate - neither of us habla espanol!
* Anything to do in PDC besides eat and beach? Sights? Maybe I'm wrong but it seems touristy, lacking culture.

thanks in advance!

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  1. My 2 pesos:
    Casa Magna is impressive for 3 reasons: 1)spectacular private beach - Escobar had good taste. 2) the scale of it -the 2 houses probably total 80,000 SF. 3) The 2 women did an extraordinary job of completing it. In 1996, it was 2 giant concrete shells, all the wiring, plumbing, tilework, glass and woodwork had been stripped out. It is federal property and they lease it. Worth a stop for a drink. I suggested that they include an "Esco Bar".
    Chichen Itza- I highly recommend the Mayaland hotel. Honeymoon quality, expansive manicured grounds, private casitas, no parking lots or interior roads- you will be picked up in a nearby lot and whisked in a golf cart to your room. Importantly, it is only a short walk from the evening laser light show at Chichen Itza, which you will want to see. I think it is a worthwhile upgrade from hotels in Piste. They even have their own china pattern, each piece hand signed by Juan Dolores.
    As you suspect, PDC is a hedonistic, sexually charged haunt for the beautiful people to bronze, drink ,and whatever. There are a few mayan edifices in Playacar and Cozumel, but not worth a special visit. The most interesting place there by a wide margin is the restaurant Alux, in a catacomb of caves about 1KM west of 307 on Juarez. Food is unremarkable, but the place is unforgettable. Go for drinks.
    From PDC, a day trip by ferry to Cozumel and a drive around the ring road in a Jeep with stops on the windward side for cold beer and ceviche at the Paradise Cafe, Playa Bonita, and Coconuts is a fun day.
    Best resto in Akumal is Cueva del Pescador. Specialties are whole boquinette with crunchy garlic sauce, superior conch ceviche (or mixto), and hand crafted 'ritas.
    Puerto Aventuras is like Disneyland with the scale of the dolphin shows, and I don't know of a seriously good resto there, but a lunch while watching the dolphins is worth the while.
    I hope you are going soon - there is limited electrical capacity in Tulum and very little AC. May through September are insufferable there. If there's not a 40 or 60 KW transformer on a nearby electrical pole, no AC.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Veggo

      thanks Veggo! very helpful, as always. looking fwd to a lil gangta with our beachin and culturin. ;)

      thoughts on chocolate and coffee??

    2. Best coffee along the beach - Posada Margherita and La Zebra make a great espresso and cappucino. Good french press at Casa Banana. In town - Le Bistro or La Nave. Basically, you want to "hear" the machine; otherwise just assume it's instant, imo.

      Not sure if Milamores is still operating. They took it over from Melissa a few years ago (Casa Magna). It was a concrete shell until Melissa and her team finished it out - gorgeously, I might add.

      I love my 2 hour lunches at La Zebra - fresh sugar cane juice mojitos and fish tacos. Ask for the fish tacos to be prepared the "old way" with mashed potato on corn tortillas.

      Get a beachfront booth at OM just before sunset. It's the perfect place to see the sun reflect onto the clouds. They might have a happy hour. Honestly, never paid any attention to happy hours.

      One place that doesn't get much mention is the restaurant Las Estrellas at La Luna. Everything is very good - breakfast, lunch and dinner.

      Many have been loving the restaurant at Villas Las Estrellas. A different place just south of Los Lirios.

      Mateo's on the jungle side in Punta Piedra is good too - less expensive and huge fish tacos.

      I have never seen much chocolate around Tulum, sorry.

      1. PDC *is* touristy and it's not exactly teeming with culture, but it's still pretty darn cool. The people-watching is incredible and you can hear about a dozen languages being spoken on the beach.

        If you're looking for good food, the trick is to get away (for the most part) from 5th Avenue. Walk just a few blocks off the grid and you'll find delicious, authentic and cheap food. Seafood at La Pesca, tacos al pastor at El Fogon, melt-in-your-mouth arrachera at H.C. de Monterrey, amazing breakfast at La Cueva del Chango and Nativo, roast chicken at Asadero el Pollo Estillo Sinaloa, etc. There's also a lot of very good Italian on the north end of 5th Avenue, which is known as "Little Italy" due to the large number of Italian and Argentian-Italian expats there. I could go on for hours.

        Playa probably isn't for everyone but if you avoid the end of 5th near the ferry dock and enjoy chilling on the beach, eating great food and a lively bar scene, it's loads of fun. It's one of my favorite places in the world.

        19 Replies
        1. re: Dasha

          I miss some of the old originals that are are no longer with us - El Chino, Los Almendros, Dr. Taco, the Coffee Press, Java Joe's, the juice guy on 5th Ave.
          A stroll to the ferry dock for a cup of fresh fruit from the ladies under the banyan trees is always wholesome.

          1. re: Veggo

            I still haven't gotten over the closing of Dr. Taco. I become sad again every single year we go to Playa and walk by where it used to be.

            I do like Carboncitos as well...though they made themselves a bit more upscale (wooden chairs instead of plastic, slightly higher prices, and they moved the pastor spit to the kitchen). We did have the most amazing arrachera tacos though my husband was deeply confused about why a small salad was included with it.

            Haven't been to the Super Carne (HC de Monterrey) in Playa but do like the one in Cancun.

            Can't make any recommendations for Piste, but if you're visiting Valladolid I've got some suggestions.

            1. re: GabachaYucateca

              We will be stopping in Valladolid for dinner (thinking of the hotel) and possibly the next day for lunch. Your favorite spots?

              1. re: 5thAndNowhere

                I just got back from Valladolid. Without a doubt the best dining is at Taberna de los Frailes, which is next door to the Ex-Convento San Bernardino de Siena. It is either a very long walk or a short cab ride from the Zocalo. The food was outstanding. We ate there multiple times because it was so good and the other choices not nearly as good. Some of the favorite dishes we tried were:

                The grill watermelon and panela appetizer. Delicious and unique
                The Relleno Negro here was the best of the trip
                The ceviche and shrimp cocktails on the appetizer menu were both very, very good
                There is a snapper dish - can't remember the menu name - that was fabulous, snapper filetes were wound into coils and seared, then served with rice to which the relleno negro sauce had been added, some crisply cooked bacon and a few other plate garnishes. Probably the best entree of all we tried.
                Their grouper entree is also good

                Drinks are creative and do not fail to order the maracuya (passion fruit) ice cream for dessert, it is absolutely addictive.

                We were in Valladolid for 4 days staying at the Meson del Marques hotel (hardest beds on the planet). Their courtyard dining room is beautiful and romantic, unfortunately, the same can not be said for their food. The kitchen is quite capable and using good quality ingredients, but almost everything that came out of it was stone cold. Their waitstaff also needed to be far better trained.

                La Campana on the Zocalo is decent for a quick bit or cena. A bit noisy with indifferent service but the good is more than serivceable.

                Maruja, also on the Zocalo, is good for a quick lunch serving nice pannini style sandwiches. Full range of beverages and a small art gallery if you go inside. This is the only place on the Zocalo with outdoor seating in the portales area.

                One place we wanted to try but they close early was La Casona, which is about a block and a half off the Zocalo (down the street that La Compana anchors), a few doors down from La Chispa. The menu looked nice, the room even nicer, but they were closing at 7 pm the night we tried to go.

                If you happend to be in Valladolid on a Tuesday be sure to check out the Casa de los Venados, just around the corner from Maruja. It is an 18,000 sq. ft. refurbished colonial house with an enormous and remarkable collection of folk art. The objection of the renovation was to retain as much of the buildings' original integrity while providing a liveable space for the owner and exhibition space for the owner's folk art collection. The architects succeeded beyond expectation. The place is absolutely fabulous. Tours of the property are given on Tuesday and there is a small entrance fee. All funds collected go towards supporting local medical projects aimed at treating those in the area with limited or no access otherwise to health services. To date they've been able to build 2 surgical suites with funds collected from their tours.

                I was pleasantly surprised by Valladolid. It was an extremely charming town and probably the cleanest Mexican town I've been in for a while. It's no secret that my heart lies in the Central Highlands of Mexico, but I could very easily live in Valladolid (as long as I had air conditioning <gg>)

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Taberna de los Frailes sounds delicious. It's on the list! Too bad about de Marques. Bayless plugged Vallodolid in a blog post, but only mentions the Mayan offerings in "restaurants around the square." No specifc ones. In this part of the country, we do want to explore some of the Mayan dishes. Did you have Kol Pak or Conchinita Pibil there?

                  1. re: 5thAndNowhere

                    There are only 4 restaurants on the Zocalo that I counted - the restaurant at the Meson del Marques, La Compana, Maruja and the open air restaurant at the Hotel Maria de la Luz (decent buffet breakfast here). Both La Compana and the Meson del Marques do Mayan specialties. We often found these to be some of the weaker menu offerings, and it often seemed that they were there just for the tourists. I had the Puuc Chuc (lime marinated grilled pork) at Meson del Marques and it was good, though somewhat uninspired. The best Xnepic i had was at the Hacienda Sotuta de Peon outside of Merida, the best conchinita was actually in Campeche.

                    My recent trip encompassed Merida, Valladolid and Campeche. The best meals we had - BY FAR - were at Taberna de los Frailes in Valladolid and Local 3 in Merida. Kinich in Izamal was also really good; the salsa here was incindiary. Except at Kinich, the items labeled as "Mayan Specialties" weren't that great. Not badly prepared, just not very interesting. This may be a function of where we were more than anything, so take this with a grain of salt.

                    1. re: 5thAndNowhere

                      So now I'm embarrassed to realize that I can't remember the names of the restaurants that I like! There's a good place that serves Yucatecan antojitos for breakfast and lunch that's right across the street from Hotel Zaci. And my favorite place for tacos is down one of the streets that leads directly into the main square. If you're about to head down the street the bus station is on, you'll have Hotel Maria de Lourdes on your left in front of you and you take a right on that street. I'm sure the name will come to me.

                      Never made it to El Yepez, but my husband and brother-in-law eat there a lot....the original location closed but they opened another on the patio outside Hotel San Clemente. This and the taco place don't open until later evening and it doesn't pick up until late night.

                      La Chispa doesn't have the greatest turns into more of a young club scene at night...but some of their appetizers are okay.

                      In the mornings, there are good tacos de lomitos sold right outside of the cathedral. I don't recommend any of the places in El Bazaar right on the main square...too greasy! But for tacos and tortas de cochinita, there are a couple of good carts at the corner of the street where the ladies sell their fruit and veggies on the sidewalk and the cross street where the taxis and combis for Dzitnup park.

                      I'm sorry my directions are so vague...perhaps somebody who think in streets and avenues could help me out, as I obviously think in landmarks.

                      What is Kol Pak? Never heard of it.

                      1. re: GabachaYucateca

                        You and DD have given me a renewed interest in Valladolid. Usually I pass through, eat well and sleep at the Marques (no box springs), pay my respect to the impressive church, buy beer and ice in the morning and mabe a sisal hammock and guayabera shirt from Merida and move on. DD's resto and the casa/ museum are new attractions? In years past, Valladolid was so lost in time and place that it was a magnet for white collar fugitives. The Por Eso newspaper showcases Interpol arrests of extranjeros who stayed more than 3 days, thinking they were not noticed.
                        Interesting that DD's resto reco featured shrimp, snapper and grouper. I am usually hesitant to order seafood that far into the interior, but obviously transportation from Campeche or Holbox has improved.
                        To 5thAndNowhere, at a minimum you can find cochinita pibil at El Faisan y El Venado and Yaxche in PDC. Awesome you will get to see the serpent on the equinox at Chichen Itza!

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Veggo, there has been a concerted effort in the last couple of years to clean up Valladolid for the on-going 2010-2012 celebration. They have been wildly successful. It was surprisingly clean all over, not just around the Zocalo and lots of buildings had been repainted. I don't think there's really a whole lot to do there, but it could be used as a homebase to explore the archeological sites in the area. We did Coba and Ek Balam, and, of course, Chichen Itza is nearby as well. Had a really fun morning in the local market with a friend who used to do catering. People were really friendly and no one minded much about our taking photos. (The vendors at the mercado in Campeche were even more open about photos, some even posing for us). Encountered caimitas which was a new fruit to me (relative of the sapote).

                          As for all the seafood, the chef at Taberna de los Frailes used to cook in Cancun at one of the big resorts and the owners of the restaurant are seasoned pros with enough capital.

                          Here's a link to the Taberna web page. It isn't much, and it doesn't even have the menu on it, but it does have links to the sites and blogs that have comments made about it -

                          And just for you Veggo, here's the link to the Yucatan Today review of Local 3 in Merida, which is how we found the restaruant - . It's better than the review. Cocktails were fabulous, service in the dining room was good, but the kitchen had some timing problems. Easily the best meals we ate in Merida.

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            Have you visited the ruins and mini-pyramid at Dzibilchaltun, between Merida and Progresso? One of the last, including Coba, that is still touchy-feely, and you can still climb the pyramid. I'll confess I have not had a memorable meal in Merida, I will notch away your high praise of Local 3. It's a difficult city to navigate.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Veggo, Merida was pretty bleak eating until we found Local 3. Even the fondas in the mercado didn't inspire much enthusiasm. Local 3 is far from perfect, but compared to a lot of what was available to us, it was pretty stellar.

                              There is also a Slow Food farmers market on Saturday that's fun. Small but some interesting small producers. It's housed on the grounds of a bakery owned by an ex-pat from San Antonio. 60% of her customers are Mexican not ex-pat which I found interesting. The market itself had everything from guys growing lettuces on their roof top in recylcled water bottles to prepared Korean food. Hard to find, you'll need a map and a taxi but a fun excursion for a Saturday morning. Also Canul's can do custom Guayaberas for you in your choice of fabric and color in about 3-4 days. If you're flying in or out of Merida, this is a good option.

                            2. re: DiningDiva

                              Don't get me wrong, Veggo. I personally get so bored in Valladolid that I want to scoop my eyes out. Just have spent tons of time there and therefore have ferreted out the good places for some things. But it's all comida de la calle, as I eat the typical Yucateco specialties in my husband's village just south of the city (relleno negro, escabeche, puchero, etc).

                              But for vistors, good cochinita can be had at small stands and also in the market. Very rarely actually cooked traditionally (in the pib) but still tasty and greasy.

                              Xni pek (aka nose of the dog, which Dining Diva mentioned) is actually sooooo easy to make....we make it at home in RI all the time and the only difference is the ingredients come from the store and not the in-laws' patio.

                              Overall, Valladolid is a great place to use as a base for day trips but ultimately one would be bored with the food options after a while.

                              My theory? All of the good Yucatecan specialities are best made and eaten in someone's home and therefore the restaurants' offerings are often a weak imitation.

                              1. re: GabachaYucateca

                                GY, I agree with you totally about Valladolid. It's a pretty sleepy town. Once you've seen the cenote, the mercado, the ex-convento and Casa de los Venados, there isn't much else to see or do in the town per se. I also agree that Yucatecan specialties are best eaten in private homes not restaurants.

                                1. re: GabachaYucateca

                                  When I was sworn as an "hermano" by my 13 Mayan brothers in Cozumel in 1992, (I'm danish) the weekend included a huge redfish, baked in a pit with banana leaves and the trimmings, at a camp in the jungle. And the baked triggerfish livers, which I had to eat to demonstrate my worthiness. And I listened with elephant ears to Mayan hopes for man's connection to earth. Which hasn't happened yet. My favorite Mayan gods are Chac, Yum Kaax, Ix Chel, Ah Chicum Ek, Bolon Itzacab, Pahuatun, and Kaui. They are the gods of rain, corn, medicine, stars, wind, universe, and thunder bolt. Many of the remaining 102 are not so pleasant.

                                2. re: DiningDiva

                                  Is Taberna de los Frailes open for lunch? I cannot figure this out from their website.

                                  Headed to Playa and Cancun for 2 weeks in April. Have a long day trip scheduled to Chichen Itza, El Baklam, a pair of cenotes and lunch in Valladolid. We have a private tour guide for the day and can therefore eat wherever we want. If T de los F is open for lunch, how long should we plan on it taking?

                                  We happen to have our tour scheduled for a Tuesday. Is the Casada de los Venados worthwhile given we will have a very busy day? Or it this more an attraction to best left to a scenario where one is visiting Valladoloid and loooking for something to do?


                                  1. re: heathpack

                                    Holy Cow!! that's a HUGE day.

                                    Yes, I believe that Taberna de los Frailes is open for comida, meaning it probably opens at 2 pm and you will be the only ones there if you show up that early. We did have comida there one day and it was delicious.

                                    Casa de los Venados is spectacular if you are interested in folk arts or the arts in general. If you aren't a huge fan of the arts it's probably a pass.

                                    Loved Ek Balam. You can see most of it and climb what you want to climb in about 90 minutes - 2 hours.

                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      Lol, a huge day indeed, we want to get our money's worth and we have the tour guide for 14 hours!

                                      What do you think for lunch- 2 hours?

                                      Casa de los Venados- maybe 45 minutes? I would not mind seeing some folk art. We are staying in a pair of timeshares, will not have a car and are concerned we will not get to know Mexico at all- it will be a lot of gringo food, drink and fun, aside from the ruins at Tulum, Chichen Itza and El Baklam and various cenotes and reefs. It would be nice to see something of living Mexican culture.


                                      1. re: heathpack

                                        2 hours for lunch is probably fine, it'll probably be a little less.

                                        The tour at Casa de Venados is fairly structured, I'm not sure how long it lasts. I was there with Los Amigos del Arte Popular which is a dedicated folk art group (I'm actually a collector) and we had a function there that lasted several hours. Here's the link to Trip Advisor comments on Casa de Venados - - you can decide if you think it's worth it. Here's the link to the Casa itself -

                              2. re: GabachaYucateca

                                kol pak is a masa soup. ive seen Chicken Kol Pak mentioned.

                                thanks again for the recos!